On covering former First Lady Laura Bush

In light of yesterday's patriotic mood in honor of Memorial Day, I thought today would be an ideal time to share my experience covering the conversation between Laura Bush, Barbara Pierce Bush and Soledad O'Brien at the AARP Life@50+ event in Boston a few weeks ago.

Life@50+ Laura Bush presentation

As a guest of AARP Member Advantages, I had the opportunity to attend the presentation as "media." Meaning, I would be allowed to sit in a reserved area and be allowed to photograph Laura Bush and her daughter... for the first three minutes they appeared on stage. (After that, we'd be required to turn off our cameras.) If, that is, I was sufficiently cleared by the Secret Service in advance.

Politics aside, I've always admired Laura Bush — her grace under pressure, commitment to family, her love of reading and the written word. So I completed the Secret Service form requesting my social security number and more. Not too surprisingly, considering the rather uneventful, non-espionage lifestyle I lead, I was approved to cover the event as media.

The day of the event, I was marched into the auditorium with other media folk, escorted to our special spot, pulled out my camera (and iPhone for tweeting and Facebook status sharing) and prepared to enjoy the talk.

The presentation began in a moving and patriotic manner, with touching songs and images.

 Laura Bush presentation opening

After several speakers introduced one another, each leading us closer to the main event, Laura Bush and her daughter Barbara Pierce Bush took the stage.

Soledad O'Brien, Laura Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush

Laura Bush waves to the crowd

As this took place mere days before Mother's Day, it was a fitting time to hear Laura Bush (who was surprisingly witty) and her daughter discuss with Soledad O'Brien matters of importance to women in general as well as their personal reflections on life in the White House, family and more. Below are some of their comments that most resonated with me.

Laura Bush in conversation

On grandparent names
Laura said she wanted her daughters, Barbara and Jenna, to help choose her grandma name. "(They) emailed they think my grandparent name should be 'Mimi Maxwell,'" she said. "George just wants the baby to call him 'Sir.' "

Instead of "Sir," though, Barbara revealed that the chosen name for George is the Spanish word for chief. "Mila is being raised to call her grandfather Jefe, which is cute," she said of her sister Jenna's one-year-old daughter, the only Bush grandchild so far.

On keeping Jenna and Barbara grounded
"I love to read," Laura said, "So I did that by reading to them."

"We loved them unconditionally, and they know that," she said. "That's freeing for children to know they're loved."

"We knew we were loved," Barbara added.

"One of the best things you can do for your children," Laura stressed, "is have a stable relationship with your family members."

"Our parents never really let us feel there was pressure on us," Barbara said.

Laura shared that when George Bush was Texas governor and the death penalty was a prominent issue, "he told Jenna and Barbara that you never have to take the political position that I take," she said. He told their daughters to make up their own minds and act on that. "Being loyal doesn't mean you have to take my political position because you don't," Laura said George told them.

Laura on the discord in politics today
"I do think civility is a problem. We can see it in political life. It is very obvious in political life."

"It is important to teach in our schools civics, and maybe that'll teach civility."

"We need to figure out a way to reach across the aisle. I think it sets an example for the country."

"I think each of us could do something about civility by acting civil ourselves."

On world issues
Soledad O'Brien asked Laura, "What is the No. 1 issue facing women across the world?" Laura didn't miss a beat, immediately answered, "Men!" Which, naturally, elicited much laughter from the crowd.

Laura then added, "International cultural stigma against women is what's most destructive." After September 11, she noted, "so much was brought to light regarding the treatment of women in Afghanistan."

That said, though, Laura added: "I think we need to pay more attention to little boys. The statistics on boys are not very good."

Laura pointed out that overall, "It's in our moral interest as the very wealthiest nation ever to make a difference."

Laura on hobbies
"I love to read on my iPad. My vision is not very great, but I can make the font big."

George's recent taking up of painting, she said, "is a perfect example for people our age."

"I do yoga. I love yoga."

Laura on being a grandparent
When seeing grandbaby Mila, others around "have to be careful of being trampled by George and me because we try to get our hands on her."

"One of the great things about having a phone with a camera is I get a photo each day of the baby, and I get a video each day of the baby."

"All of our conversations with our friends are about stents, knee replacements and grandchildren."

Laura Bush on big screen 

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to attend such an event as media, as well as doing so with my fellow AARP Member Advantages friends Donna and Jennifer (Jennifer whom graciously reminded me "We're not supposed to be doing that!" before Secret Service folks nabbed me for forgetting that we weren't supposed to take photos after the initial three-minute photo opp!).

Mostly, though, I enjoyed seeing that despite her worldly experiences and associations, Laura Bush is very much like the rest of us. The moments she lit up most and seemed to beam with pride were those when she spoke about her beloved daughters and grandchild. Yes, just like the rest of us.

Today's question:

Which first lady, past or present, do you most admire and why?